Academic journal article Capital & Class

Internal Relations and the Revolutionary Consciousness

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Internal Relations and the Revolutionary Consciousness

Article excerpt


Previous work in the field of Marxism has suggested that a philosophy of internal relations serves as the philosophical basis for Marx's view of the mediation of the objective world by human productive activity, and that a developed ontology derived from such a framework may serve as the philosophical foundation of his critique of capitalism (see e.g. Bahskar 2008; Bologh 1979; Foster 2000; Gould 1980; Marsh 1999; Oilman 1971, 2003). However, often overlooked is the fact that there is a variety of models of internal relations within the philosophical cannon, two of them represented in the works of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Alfred North Whitehead, respectively. (1) The purpose of this essay is to explore the differences between these two visions of internal relations, in order to demonstrate that modernist presuppositions inherent in the Leibnizian version lead those attempting a Marxian application into two significant and linked errors: one theoretical and one practical. As a result, it is here argued that the Whiteheadian version of the philosophy of internal relations that promotes a view of a social-relational dialectical reality, provides a more adequate basis for both our theoretical understanding of the role of mediating agency within Marx's critique of capitalism and, extending from such understanding, our practice in regard to the development of radical consciousness.

At issue for those proffering philosophies of internal relations is a recurrent problem within Marxism regarding the development of consciousness necessary to both uncover (de-mystify) and move beyond the capitalist form of social relations. Can a view that labour not only externalises itself in and as the increasingly commodified world, but also reproduces the dominant ideology even as it produces itself as a 'definite mode of life' (Marx 1970: 42), be reconciled with a view that insists that human lives producing the capitalist form of social relations are simultaneously, consciously, the source of the revolutionary impulse that may lead beyond it? Can one hold to a philosophical view that personal, social, event-entities are internally constituted by their mutual relations, by their social relations, without despairing, as critical theorists all too often do, our ability to become conscious of our own situation and the manner of its reversal, so as to see our way clear to constituting our mode of life differently?

The Whiteheadian philosophy of internal relations points us away from the typically modernist view of consciousness and opens us to a re-vision, not only more consistent with Marx's critical and explanatory framework, but, precisely because of it, more fruitful in terms of articulating what it means to produce and promote revolutionary conceptualisation. This vision of internal relations will find itself fully consistent with the theories of alienation and of value production, and will demonstrate the manner in which dialectical understanding reveals the 'rose in the cross of the present', not as Hegelian rationality but as the appropriation of such consciousness unto itself in its dual mode as subject-superject (Hegel 1981: 12). This paper, therefore, offers a warning against and diagnosis of theoretical-interpretive errors too often committed by Marxists, and suggests one way in which these errors might be avoided. The solution proposed herein is not necessarily exclusive, but insofar as philosophies of internal relations are concerned, it has a scope of application not suggested by others. Finally, for reasons of necessary brevity, the discussion of the Whiteheadian system itself will certainly not be exhaustive. I can only urge the reader to turn to Whitehead's works, wherein a wealth of visionary philosophical material is offered to enhance the understanding of Marx's ontological vision.

Two models of internal relations

Two of the most prominent models of internal relations presented in the history of philosophy belong to G. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.